I have come to learn that Kipling’s short stories have been put into a number of different categories. I was familiar with his “Just So” stories and his “Jungle Book” stories. This week I read a story called “The Courting of Dinah Shadd”, which is considered one of his “Soldier Stories”. I believe this is one of several stories involving the same characters.
The narrator camps out with his troops and as they begin to settle in to the “belt-loosening silence about the fires”, one of his comrades, Terance Mulvaney, an Irishmen, begins to tell the story of how he met his wife, Dinah Shadd. As the story progresses, the reader begins to understand what the narrator already knows. Mulvaney likes his drink and likes his women.
Mulvaney bemoans the fact that after all the time he’s spent in the army, he is still only a private. He then goes on to explain that after courting Dinah Shadd, one of his colonel’s daughters, and after getting “serious” with her, he happens upon another young lady, Judy Sheehy, and for no other reason than because he can, he begins to “court” her.
Of course, eventually, the two women meet up with Mulvaney at the same time – along with their mothers. Mrs. Sheehy gives up on Mulvaney actually choosing her daughter over Dinah Shadd, but not without cursing him, of which one of the curses is that he’ll never be more than a private.
Mulvaney’s story within a story is told in an Irish brogue that is brilliant writing but also sometimes agonizingly frustrating to a reader that is unfamiliar with this accent. I’ve found that I get more out of stories written this way if I read it quickly as opposed to reading it slowly and trying to understand what each syllable and word means. I can also figure out better what the character is saying if I read it out loud. This isn’t always practical and is difficult to do sometimes without getting strange looks from others.